Legislators split over rights for pregnant, breastfeeding women

Legislators split over rights for pregnant, breastfeeding women
Joni Jenkins (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Joni Jenkins (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Julie Raque Adams (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Julie Raque Adams (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Julie Crawford (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Julie Crawford (Source: WAVE 3 News)

FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - It's an issue for many women, being pregnant or having to breastfeed at work.

Wednesday, legislators in both chambers passed a resolution encouraging more women to breastfeed, but some current bills go a step further.

Representative Joni Jenkins, a Democrat representing Shively, is championing House Bill 18, known as the Kentucky Pregnant Workers' Fairness Act.

"It passed the house 95-0 last year," Jenkins said. "Did not get a hearing in the Senate."

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This year, she's trying again, but it's still been met with mixed reactions.

"In Kentucky we accommodate smokers, but we don't accommodate pregnant women or women that are breastfeeding," Jenkins said.

Some senate leaders, like Health and Welfare Chair Sen. Julie Raque Adams, a Republican who represents Jefferson County, say requiring businesses to put in protections goes too far.

"I'm just a little hesitant to impose anymore mandates on businesses that are already struggling in this current economic environment," Raque Adams said.

Rep. Jenkins said without a requirement, there's a chance not all businesses would follow along.

"Sometimes you have to say this is the standard that we're going to have," Jenkins said.

La Leche League protects women who choose to breastfeed. Julie Crawford is one of the leaders of its Louisville branch.

"Even in 2016, the fact that we're having a conversation about this kind of surprises me," Crawford said. "Surprisingly, we do get calls from women occasionally saying they don't have an office to pump in, how can they make that work."

Rep. Jenkins said there are numerous examples of organizations not protecting the needs of breastfeeding or pregnant women.

"We had a police officer in northern Kentucky," Jenkins said. "She wasn't given a bulletproof vest that fit her correctly, very outrageous."

Sen. Raque Adams said the bill is proactive and not reactive.

"I certainly haven't heard that there has been a problem within the employment sector," Raque Adams said.

She also disagrees with the bill grouping pregnant women's rights with those who are disabled.

"As a woman who has been pregnant several times, I can tell you I wasn't disabled when I was carrying my sons," Raque Adams said.

Jenkins said the bill is simply about defending women's rights

"I just want to make sure that women are protected in the workplace," Jenkins said.

There are some roadblocks. A recently added amendment to the bill would ban abortion after 20 weeks. Jenkins said if that amendment manages to stay on the bill, there is no way it would get passed.

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